Misty Copeland is the first African American soloist for American Ballet Theatre in 20 years! Her rise to fame has led to many discussions about the need for more diversity in ballet. The Pointe Magazine just released an issue that confronted the lack of diversity in a mostly "white" ballet world. The article, "Why does diversity remain a problem in ballet?" interviewed prominent ballet companies about the programs they have in place to reach a diverse population. Among the programs was Project Plie, an initiative of Amercian Ballet Theatre, inspired by Misty Copeland's humble beginnings at her local Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club. ABT is partnering with The Salvation Army as well as dance companies and teachers to implement a program to reach more diverse populations. Black ballerinas Ashley Murphy, Ebony Williams, and Misty Copeland graced the cover and the buzz about this photo quickly spread across social media sites. The ballerinas shared the obstacles they had to overcome in order to achieve their success.
A concern I have is that the responsibility of the minority teacher and/or school is not mentioned. I am a black dance teacher and I am the founder of Royal Expressions Contemporary Ballet. It is my responsibility to ensure that each of my students are given the best dance education possible and that they know all types of dance, including ballet. Minority teachers/schools should be held accountable if not more accountable than the predominantly white ballet organizations to introduce our own to ballet. In my town, I notice that most dance studios owned and operated by a minority do not fully embrace ballet, therefore, their students do not know and even worse, appreciate what ballet has to offer.
I believe that this lack of education from our minority dance leaders has trickled down to less minorities pursuing or even considering ballet as a dance career. I only become enamored with ballet by happenstance and wish with all my heart that I had been introduced to it sooner. For I have learned over the years that although I enjoy Jazz and Hip Hop, Ballet is my true passion. It matches my personality better. The symmetry, consistency, strive for perfection, musicality, gracefulness all bring out the best of me.
I did not start studying ballet consistently until I was 18 years old. Even then I approached it with a prejudice because I was black and shaped the way I am that I was not good at it. It is the minority dance teacher's responsibility to teach ballet from an unbiased viewpoint so that the student has the opportunity to fully blossom and developed into the art form with no reservations or negative opinions about what they are capable of.
As I continued to train and especially when I began to teach, my disdain began to melt away and I soon came to realize that ballet was the dance style I was meant to embrace. I use it in my choreography and I teach it thoroughly. I study it and make sure when I bring lessons to my students that I am telling them correct information, so that when they leave from my school to go to an audition, to become a teacher, or become a choreographer, that they are knowledgeable and ready. After all, each child that leaves your school and continues on to other opportunities will be a reflection of the dance education you have to offer.
Minorities have a responsibility to ensure that when they present themselves as a professional in a field, not to allow a negative stigma to attach to their organization. If minority dance companies are not teaching ballet or halfheartedly teach ballet, then we are sending more and more minority dancers out into the dance world claiming to be dancers, yet they do not know ballet. It is a shame and a disgrace to our culture to allow a student to spend years and money learning to dance, yet they do not know basic ballet terminology.
I am not saying to disregard the dance styles that are closely linked to who you are as a race, but to also embrace ballet. You never know what the potential of your student is. It is our responsibility to introduce our students to dance. Ballet is a part of dance and it can be danced by beautiful brown girls and boys.
I truly believe that if all sides of the ballet world, minorities and the majority work together to address the issue of diversity in ballet, then we will begin to see a change in the ballet world. All responsibility is not in the hands of the majority. We must show them that we have brown ballerinas and danseurs who are trained, willing, and ready to become ballet dancers!
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